Trying out Windows 7’s XP Mode

Late last month, Microsoft revealed plans to offer a free Windows XP virtualization solution to users of Windows 7 Professional and Ultimate. In a nutshell, this solution is supposed to let folks run virtualized legacy apps seamlessly within their shiny new Windows 7 desktops.

The XP mode beta is now publicly available alongside the Windows 7 release candidate. I was eager to take it for a spin, because I regularly use Virtual PC in Vista for a similar purpose. (As TR’s de-facto HTML and CSS code monkey, I need a Windows XP virtual machine to test rendering in old versions of Internet Explorer.)

So, how do you get this thing up and running? First, you’ll need to grab both the 4.88MB Windows Virtual PC Beta and the 445MB Windows XP Mode Beta. Both are up on this page. The former is essentially a standalone Windows Update package, which will require you to reboot. The latter contains the entire Windows XP operating system in a pre-baked form, and it adds a handy "Virtual Windows XP" entry in the Start menu.

I like how simple Microsoft makes the setup process. The first time you try to load up the virtual XP image, a setup box presents you with a license agreement and asks you to enter a password for the XP installation. You then get to watch a progress bar moving across the screen for five or six minutes. After that, your Windows XP desktop pops up inside its own little window, ready to go—it’s already set up and everything!

The virtual machine provides you with Internet connectivity, clipboard sharing, and access to your Windows 7 drive, so installing old apps and copying files should be relatively easy. I couldn’t drag and drop files between the two desktops like in the old Virtual PC, but since you can now use the cut-and-paste CTRL-C, CTRL-V maneuver for the same purpose, it’s no biggie.

Otherwise, the virtual XP desktop behaves pretty much as you’d expect, with a couple of exceptions. There’s no explicit way to shut down, and closing Virtual PC will hibernate the image by default. The software also lets you run XP in full-screen mode, but with a little pop-out bar at the top to prevent you from trapping yourself in. Oh, and OpenGL/Direct 3D games don’t appear to work.

Of course, Windows Virtual PC isn’t for gamers. It’s for serious-minded business users whose productivity depends on old applications they haven’t paid to update (or those written by programmers they fired). Therein comes XP Mode’s flagship feature—virtual applications.

Getting those to work is relatively simple: just open up your virtual XP desktop and install an application of your choosing. You’re free to run the app within the virtual desktop, but a shortcut for it will also appear in the Windows 7 Start menu, under "Virtual Windows XP Applications." Click on that with the VM closed, and Virtual PC will let you load the VM silently and open the app inside an XP-themed window within your Windows 7 desktop. Neat.

That particular feature is a tad rough around the edges just now, though. When I tried to load up Winamp in that fashion, a pair of familiar notifications promptly popped up in the Windows 7 tray: Windows XP was telling me updates were available and I didn’t have anti-virus software installed. The only easy way to make both of them go away was to install the updates and tell the Security Center to stop bothering me. One of the warnings appeared in the hidden part of the tray, too, and it stayed there after I’d closed everything else. If I hadn’t known any better, XP Mode would have stayed open in the background, eating up resources. (And, worse, I would have been confused about where the notifications came from to begin with.)

Otherwise, virtual applications may look like they’re part of the Windows 7 desktop, but they’re definitely not. Dragging them around shows glimpses of the virtual XP desktop, and save/open dialogs point to the VM’s virtual system drive.

So, even though it’s easy to install, XP Mode feels a tad counter-intuitive in the way it operates. Add to that the lack of support for "Home" editions of Windows 7 or processors without hardware virtualization support, and it becomes clear this tool won’t be much help to folks who aren’t enthusiasts or business users backed by qualified IT staff.

Hardware requirements could be especially bothersome, since as it turns out, Intel offers very spotty VT support across its product line. Check out these three CPUs: the $190 Core 2 Quad Q8300, the $167 Core 2 Duo E8400, and the $120 Core 2 Duo E7400. Can you guess which ones have VT? Only one does: the E8400. (AMD, by contrast, supports hardware virtualization down to its $55 Athlon X2 5000+, but Intel has a much bigger presence in the corporate world.)

That’s a shame. Despite the rough edges, I think offering a free, easy-to-install copy of Windows XP to Windows 7 users is a fundamentally good idea. (Besides, you can always keep things simple by running your legacy apps in the virtual desktop.) Fragmented support may prevent this feature from gaining much traction as a reliable compatibility solution.

Check out the image gallery below for more shots of the installation process and XP Mode in action.

Comments closed
    • Rakhmaninov3
    • 11 years ago

    Your desktop reminds me of a dream I had one time! Goofy and colorful!

    • Prototyped
    • 11 years ago

    I think it’s a bit sad that Microsoft started requiring hardware virtualization for its new Virtual PC release despite not actually adding any substantial features (like, say, 64-bit guests) that required it. VMware Workstation and Player have a very similar feature (called Unity) — and have had it since the release of Workstation 6.5 and the corresponding Player 2.5 release, and do not require VT.

      • Meadows
      • 11 years ago

      That workstation is not free, however.

        • derFunkenstein
        • 11 years ago

        use the workstation eval to create your virtual machine and player to use it? Player is free.

    • jstern
    • 11 years ago

    I think the majority of people won’t need this, it’s such a non issue. I’m sure most programs that didn’t work under Vista got upgraded by the time I got it, (June 2007). I’m definitely having some issues with some programs that work on Vista, but not Windows 7, but those should be worked out also. Bottom line, programs get updated. This should benefit businesses with old software.

    • CapnBiggles
    • 11 years ago

    Oh my sweet e8400 what cant you do.

      • Richie_G
      • 11 years ago

      Thought the same thing

    • kilkennycat
    • 11 years ago

    All M$$ need to do now is to package a retail WinXP Pro disk and genuine CD-Key with every copy of Windows 7 Pro (and above) and (almost) all of us will be very happy campers. Then we will have the free choice of EITHER dual-booting XP/Win7 OR enabling XPM mode or BOTH. No skin off Microsoft’s nose (other than the mfg. cost of the XP disk) , since all retail sales of XP Pro have been discontinued. Lots of customer happiness. And no obligation for Microsoft to extend the XP support dates.

    The article did not address at all the real and potential issues of the many XP applications which utilize internal peripheral hardware that does not have Vista/Win7 drivers. Plus the only external peripheral hardware support is via USB… with vague claims of driver compatibility. Whether *your* XP-compatible printer driver really works with XPM will need hands-on testing with Win7 RC.. And there seems to be no obvious support for parallel-printers. Don’t expect any better compatibility when Win 7 ships. And all gamers can forget XPM. Same “S3” support as Virtual PC.

    • blubje
    • 11 years ago

    Using hardware virtualization support probably isn’t such a bad idea; that way, they don’t have to worry about as many XP security flaws compromising any new security design. This is Intel’s fault, not Microsoft’s.

    • neoanderthal
    • 11 years ago

    Some tidbits about XP Mode:
    The option to shut down (as opposed to simply log-off or disconnect) is available under the ‘Windows Security’ option on the start menu. It looks identical to the Remote Desktop start menu, which might explain why there’s no DirectX support. I suspect (though I don’t know for sure) that the ‘seamless’ application ability is something that has been pulled from Terminal Services for Windows Server 2003 and grafted onto this product, since it’s possible to run applications in ‘seamless’ mode from a W2k3 terminal server as well.

    If you want the VPC to actually shut down instead of hibernating, you just need to modify the settings to do so (the ‘Close’ option).

    The default memory setting is pretty low – 256MB. The interesting thing is the actual memory footprint of the virtual PC isn’t 256MB (or 512MB, or whatever you actually end up setting the available memory to). With the virtual desktop running but with no applications loaded, my VM is actually using about 52MB of RAM (with 512MB allocated). If I recall correctly, Virtual PC 2007 will actually grab the block of RAM that you allocate, so this is a nice change.

    It seems like a pretty nice product. Once I get Office installed on it, I can see how some of my VS2008 ‘solutions’ run, and then I can cheer or curse, as appropriate.

    • Silus
    • 11 years ago

    Hehe “Charlie” and “Credibility” in the same sentence…A very funny joke indeed.

    • S_D
    • 11 years ago

    Does Virtual PC include Directx 9C support like VMWare Workstation does?

    • ltcommander.data
    • 11 years ago

    Is XP Mode considered a part of Windows 7? Since if it is, will Windows XP extended support be continued past 2014? I believe Microsoft’s support policy means that Windows 7 will get at least 10 years of support, which means that presumably XP Mode and Windows XP will have to continue to remain at extended support to receive security updates during that time.

      • Meadows
      • 11 years ago

      No, it’s a downloadable addition as far as I’m aware.

      • indeego
      • 11 years ago

      Nope, they can cut the cord as planned. By 2014 MS will presumably have even yet another desktop OS (or very close to it,) and they’ll just say tough, dealg{<.<}g They did it with NT4 and the 9x and ME series, and no uproar occurredg{<.<}g

    • pogsnet
    • 11 years ago
    • thecoldanddarkone
    • 11 years ago

    meant as a reply.

      • bthylafh
      • 11 years ago

      A link to the Inq posted by someone whose name in in leet-speak just isn’t that credible.

        • l33t-g4m3r
        • 11 years ago

        Criticism from someone who’s pseudonym isn’t even a word.
        blarrrghaarwaarrrgarbleflalaffle. whatever.
        Don’t be such a fruit loop.
        Your Ad hominem is a poor red herring, not to mention pointless and adds nothing to a discussion.

        Reflection:
        Typical conversation with TR regulars.

          • Meadows
          • 11 years ago

          Bottom-line is, neither Charlie nor you are credible sources of not only information, but even opinion.

            • l33t-g4m3r
            • 11 years ago

            And another troll appears.
            Charlie’s more credible than you, Meadows.

            • Meadows
            • 11 years ago

            A lot of people wish that were true.

            • l33t-g4m3r
            • 11 years ago

            So if you’re more credible than him, why don’t you have his job?
            Sorry, I’m not going to take some random stranger’s word that they are more credible than a well known news reporter.
            AFAIK, his argument makes sense.

            Idea:
            Instead of posting generalized Ad hominems against 2 completely unrelated people, how about arguing with proof, why you think he’s wrong.
            Or maybe that’s something you’re incapable of.
            But then again, logic and reasoning /[

            • derFunkenstein
            • 11 years ago

            credibility doesn’t matter; page views matter. In this case, the truth is boring, so he makes something up.

            Also, I can’t tell what people are being scammed out of.

            • VaultDweller
            • 11 years ago

            l[

            • eitje
            • 11 years ago

            I don’t think Meadows would be a good Fox or CNN news anchor either, but that doesn’t mean he’s less credible than they are. ๐Ÿ™‚

      • no51
      • 11 years ago

      The Inquirer is a reputable source now?

      • Krogoth
      • 11 years ago

      It is because NT 6.x kernel is very different from NT 5.x. Also x86-64 standard gets rid of the old registers that 16-bit, x86 programs require.

      • KikassAssassin
      • 11 years ago

      Charlie has completely missed the point (but it’s Charlie, so that should always be assumed). MS has never said that XP Mode was being included for any reason other than to make upgrading to Windows 7 easier for businesses. Take that into account, and his entire argument falls apart.

      MS isn’t only including XP mode in the more expensive pro and business versions of Win 7 in some attempt to trick people into giving them more money like Charlie claims they are. They’re including it in the business versions of Win 7 because /[

      • djgandy
      • 11 years ago

      So Charlie hasn’t even tried windows 7 then.

      • eitje
      • 11 years ago

      Here’s my analysis of this article:

      1) He refers to Windows 7 as Vista 2.1.
      2) He continually refers to Vista as “the Broken OS”.
      3) He uses hyperbole like “manipulation” and “Microsoft’s FUD” to drive his opinion.
      4) He generalizes his arguments by saying “For a number of reasons”.
      5) He fake laughs at his own jokes.
      6) He claims that XPM “isn’t XP”, when it clearly is just an XP virtual machine.
      7) His solution to XPM is to use some OTHER virtual machine foundation, install XP, and thus – “get off the Microsoft treadmill”

      Charlie is the shock-jock of tech news. He’s like Howard, but with less sex.

      • Mithent
      • 11 years ago

      Wow, the poll on that page is.. bizarre. It asks a simple question (“Windows 7: Is Windows just a GUI for DOS?”) for which there is a simple answer (“Not any NT-based OS, no”), yet gives no option to reply that, instead going from “Yes” to off the deep end with answers like “Let’s open source Solaris”.

        • Meadows
        • 11 years ago

        “Wot?” is the correct answer.

      • rekta
      • 11 years ago

      Did you even read the comments of that article? A lot of people is trashing this Charlie of yours.

    • Krogoth
    • 11 years ago

    The current XP mode is just a template, licenseless Virtual PC profile (you need Virtual PC to run it anyway).

    it works well enough for legacy applications. However it does not work with most old games. Because the “video card driver” cannot do full screen mode for DOS applications.

      • designerfx
      • 11 years ago

      Funny, I recall wine runs windows xp games quite well. Almost, ironic I’d say huh?

      Do they really intend to motivate more and more gamers over to linux?

        • Krogoth
        • 11 years ago

        I know it is sorta ironic, but MS never intended for XP-Mode to be used outside of legacy business applications.

        • djgandy
        • 11 years ago

        I fail to see the irony? WINE is for people who can’t be bothered to use windows yet want to use its software.

        This XP VM beta is to provide support to applications where compatibility is broken. AFAIK all modern games run on windows 7 and the amount of people playing directx 3 games or lower is fairly limited, and MS couldn’t give …. about them.

        • Mithent
        • 11 years ago

        Wine isn’t the same sort of program as Virtual PC though; as its name suggests it’s not an emulator per se but a compatibility layer, whereas Virtual PC is emulating an actual virtual PC. It’s more like WOW64 allowing 32-bit programs to run on 64-bit windows.

        • BobbinThreadbare
        • 11 years ago

        Most XP games work just fine in Vista. A lot of the one that don’t, it just because of the installer, which this would fix.

    • Plazmodeus
    • 11 years ago

    Irony: M$ adds another feature from the Mac, virualized WinXP.

      • no51
      • 11 years ago

      I think we found whoever made that wallpaper right here. Pass it to the left, and don’t forget to turn on the blacklight.

      • bwoodring
      • 11 years ago

      Wow. Do you understand why people think Mac users are dumb? Not only is OS virtualization (including XP) older than the existing Mac options, but none of those options are made by Apple, and most are cross-platform.

        • derFunkenstein
        • 11 years ago

        Wow. Do you understand why Mac users think you’re dumb? You’re forgetting Classic mode. More likely you didn’t know about it and you’re just showing how ignorant you are. Stop being a dick.

          • derFunkenstein
          • 11 years ago

          And, FWIW, Classic was preceded by Win3.1 mode in O/S2, I suppose.

            • cygnus1
            • 11 years ago

            derfunk, that dude is completely correct. And you provided the proof. He said that virtualization is older than any mac option. which it is, it’s been around longer than classic mode.

            and all current mac options (classic isn’t a current option as it doesn’t run on on intel macs at all and it’s completely removed from 10.5) are not produced by apple.

            His point stands, many/most Apple fanboys believe every feature of the Mac was invented by Apple, and that no other incarnation of said feature has ever existed before.

            I will say this, Apple is quite good at ‘borrowing’ features and improving them quite a bit. Like multi-touch for instance. It had been developed elsewhere, but Apple improved it much and made it an integral feature.

            From the original Mac GUI to almost everything Apple makes and sells, the concepts aren’t there’s. But they do a good job of convincing sheep-le that they invented the whole damn thing.

            • drsauced
            • 11 years ago

            VM/386 FTW!

            At this rate though, two machines on a desk wouldn’t be a bad way to go… except the cut’n’pasties wouldn’t work too well.

            • derFunkenstein
            • 11 years ago

            Nothing else virtualization-wise on the Mac is as old as Classic, and for him to say there’s nothing at all made by Apple means he didn’t know anything about Classic mode. Furthermore, if he can dish out the “stupid” comments he should be thick-skinned enough to take them.

            • cygnus1
            • 11 years ago

            Now you’re wrong again. He said EXISTING mac virtualization options, of which classic mode is not on current OS X.

            On top of that, I’m pretty sure VirtualPC was around in the 90’s, well before classic mode in OS X.

            • derFunkenstein
            • 11 years ago

            Well, the concept of an OS vendor giving it away for free IS pretty novel, and it’s most associated with Apple.

            • swaaye
            • 10 years ago

            MS Virtual PC was originally made by Connectix. It started on the Mac. It allowed Mac users to run Windows apps. I remember people being pretty excited about being able to run Win95 on their 68040 Macs. It was quite slow though cuz of the x86 to 68k/PPC translation.

            The history is of course on Wikipedia.

            I’ve always thought that MS bought Connectix as a way to compete with VMWare but they’ve really been half-assed about it until this super-publicized “XP Mode” stuff.

            • derFunkenstein
            • 10 years ago

            late returning to the party, but I think they wanted to pick up a ready-made x86 emulator for PPC to use in the Xbox 360, at least in part.

    • derFunkenstein
    • 11 years ago

    If you people would upgrade your OS, Cyril wouldn’t need virtualization. Shame on you!

    • ssidbroadcast
    • 11 years ago

    There are ugly boxes inside your pretty box.

    • Meadows
    • 11 years ago

    So… why would non-enthusiast consumers need this to work, again? That’s a little bit missing the point. They won’t be needing anything /[

      • Sargent Duck
      • 11 years ago

      They wouldn’t. Microsoft has made it very clear that XP mode was implemented to help Businesses migrate over to Win 7 easier while retaining legacy support.

      Hence why XP-Mode isn’t available in any version from Home downwards. Only Professional, Enterprise and Ultimate (none of which Joe Sixpack is going to buy) has this feature.

      • sluggo
      • 11 years ago

      I’m not sure it’s targeted at consumers. I believe the goal is to address what seems to have been a major stumbling block in Vista’s roll-out: companies who have leveraged XP to the hilt and did not want to roll over for Microsoft’s latest pitch. They’d spent tons of money on applications that were working just fine, thank you very much.

      HP is still using XP and IE6 (!) for the bulk of it’s employee machines. When one of MS’s largest customers says “no thanks” to Vista, they’d be idiots not to figure out why and address the problem.

        • Sargent Duck
        • 11 years ago

        When I started with my new company last year, one of the first things I did was upgrade to IE7. The look of horror on my co-workers faces! Heh, I’ve since upgraded my work machine to IE8, while my co-workers are still using IE6.

        Then again, it was just the other day I was talking to someone who was still using Windows 2000….

          • Lans
          • 11 years ago

          I’m still “using” IE6… sort of. That is what is installed and just need it for Windows Update (still using XP, of course).

          Then again my machine is sufficiently old that I plan on getting a new computer so if I wanted to keep XP around, I’ll use remote desktop. Or convert it to Linux box and retire yet still older computer…

          I am still wondering if you can permanently diable/remove XP mode for editions of Windows 7 that has it and sounds you actually have to install it (which is good from my perspective). If it is like that, then I think MS should just offer it to everyone as it probably helps them more than consumers (getting more people to drop XP). That is just speculation on my part on what’ll help with adoption of Windows 7. ๐Ÿ™‚ Just let users install it if they need it, no need for arguing. Problem solved… averted…?

          Having it installed / enabled by default for all editions would be bad as many people (non-tech savvy users) wouldn’t know how to disable this huge resource drain.

            • Meadows
            • 11 years ago

            If you use Windows Update, then why are you still keeping the IE6 version?

      • derFunkenstein
      • 11 years ago

      that’s why it’s only going to be available for Business and Ultimate.

        • Meadows
        • 11 years ago

        Tell that to Cyril who’s shocked and crying over the loss of the functionality in “home editions”.
        Okay, that may be exaggerating things, but it’s true.

          • derFunkenstein
          • 11 years ago

          I dunno, he seems more disraught over Intel’s model segmentation choices than anything, which is a complaint I can fully get behind.

      • eitje
      • 11 years ago

      q[

    • glacius555
    • 11 years ago

    What kind of graphics drivers does it use? Is it possible to run a 32-bit XP while using 64-bit Win7? Wonder if that could do the trick for my TV tuner that doesn’t have a 64-bit driver..

      • Firestarter
      • 11 years ago

      If you think that a virtual machine will ever support hardware that the host OS doesn’t, you’re smoking some good stuff mang ๐Ÿ˜›

        • deepthought86
        • 11 years ago

        Not true, I run XP 64 and don’t have a 64-bit driver for a 7 year old Canon scanner. I run XP 32-bit in VMWare and have the drivers installed and my scanner work great in its virtual world through the USB port

        • sativa
        • 11 years ago

        this is absolutely possible.

          • Firestarter
          • 11 years ago

          I stand corrected ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

        • blockhead
        • 10 years ago

        Surprising but true.
        Vista 64 does not support a usb serial adapter (belkin f5u409) I have but VMware workstation can pass it through so that the virtual xp can identify and use it properly.

      • jstern
      • 11 years ago

      I have Vista and Windows 7 with Virtual PC 2007 install. I’m able to use all versions of Windows, including 1.0 and of course they are not 64 bit.

    • Richie_G
    • 11 years ago

    It seems you’ve been rather busy today Mr Kowaliski!

    • kvndoom
    • 11 years ago

    Your desktop is suffering a bad LSD trip.

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